Diet Soda: Are they good for your health?

Diet sodas are a popular beverage all over the world, among people of all ages who are anxious to reduce their sugar or calorie intake. Instead of sugar, artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, cyclamates, saccharin, acesulfame-k, or sucralose, are used to sweeten them. There is no doubt that diet soda is a better option for reducing calorie and sugar intake, but that’s not all. There is hardly any other nutritional value in these drinks. Although we do not have many scientific trials to document the long-term health outcome of diet soda, we cannot be mindless in the consumption of these drinks. Consumers are seeking a ‘healthier’ alternative to high-calorie-high-sugar beverages. However, should we straightaway assume that a food or drink that doesn’t contain calories or natural white sugar is ‘healthy’, without a thorough risk assessment? In this article, we share some recent research on artificial sweeteners and their adverse health effects raises multiple questions about regular diet soda consumption.

                                                                                                                           Richa Pande

 Diet soda is composed of water, artificial sweeteners, synthetic colours, preservatives, and flavours. These sodas provide low or zero calories, contain no refined sugar, and zero nutrients to support overall health. Worldwide, millions consume diet soda to avoid weight gain or manage complications of diabetes without having to give up on their favourite soda. It is mindful to know the general composition of something that we consume. Given below are some ingredients commonly present in diet soda drinks:

  1. Carbonated water- Most diet sodas have carbonated water in them. Carbonated water is water that has been infused with carbon dioxide gas under pressure Carbonated water itself has not been associated with side effects such as negatively impacting the bone and teeth health but having it may lead to bloating and gas if you are sensitive to it.
  2. Caffeine- Just like regular soda, many diet sodas contain caffeine. Almost every cola soda has caffeine in it. Your sleeping patterns can play a significant role in maintaining your health, and caffeine can greatly influence it. Cola sodas have around 10 mg of caffeine in 100 ml in it. An average soda can is of about 350 ml. A can of Diet Soda can contain 35- 46 mg of caffeine. It is always recommended to mind its consumption.
  3. Sugar substitutes– These include common artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, or a natural sweeteners like stevia, which are 200–13,000 times sweeter than regular sugar.
  4. Acids-Certain acids, such as citric, malic, and phosphoric acid, are used to add tartness to soda drinks. Having too much of some of these ingredients such as phosphoric acid isn’t good for your teeth and bone health.
  5. Artificial colours, flavours, and preservatives-
Contents of three diet sodas picked from the market
    Ingredients
1 Brand 1 Sugar Free Soda Carbonated Water, Acids (Citric Acid, Malic Acid), Natural Lemon and Lime Flavouring, Acidity Regulator (Sodium Citrate), Sweeteners (Aspartame, Acesulfame K), Potassium Chloride, Stabiliser (Pectin).
2 Brand 2 Diet Soda Carbonated Water, Acidity Regulator (338), Sweeteners (951, 950), Preservative (211), Caffeine. Contains Permitted Natural Colour (150D) And Added Flavours (Natural Flavouring Substances), Contains No Fruit.
3 Brand 3 Zero Calorie Soda Carbonated Water, Colour (Caramel E150d), Acids (Phosphoric Acid, Citric Acid), Flavourings (including Caffeine), Sweeteners (Aspartame, Acesulfame K), Acidity Regulator (Sodium Citrate), Preservative (Potassium Sorbate). Contains A Source of Phenylalanine.
4 Brand 4 Fizz Classic Cola

 

Carbonated Water, Sweeteners (Steviol glycosides, Erythritol), Acidity Regulator (330, 331), Vitamin C, Herb Ashwagandha, Salt, Added Permitted Natural Food Colours (150D), Flavours.

 

Phenylketonuria Warnings on Diet Soda

Phenylketonuria is an inherited disorder that increases the levels of a substance called phenylalanine in the blood. Some diet soda contain aspartame, which is an artificial sweetener composed of two amino acids: aspartic acid and phenylalanine. It thus poses a severe health concern to phenylketonurics, or individuals afflicted with phenylketonuria. Hence Diet Coke using aspartame to provide sweetness while remaining sugar-free, needs to be avoided by phenylketonurics.

Diet Soda and Gut Health

It has been found that sugar substitutes such as saccharin, sucralose and stevia can change the composition of the gut microbiota. Some polyols such as maltitol, lactitol, and xylitol, increase the numbers of bifidobacteria in human beings. Intriguingly artificial sweeteners like saccharin & sucralose that are widely used in manufacturing diet soda could impact the gut bacteria- E. coli and E. faecalis. Due to excessive consumption of diet soda that has above ingredients, pathogenic bacteria like E. coli and E. faecalis can adhere to the gut wall, invade the Caco-2 intestinal cell lining, and cause multiple health hazards.

Diet Soda Teeth and Bone Health

Although diet soda doesn’t contain sugar like regular soda, it’s highly acidic and can take a serious toll on your smile if you drink a lot of it on a regular basis. One study found that both regular soda and diet soda significantly affects the surface roughness of tooth enamel, indicating that both can contribute to tooth erosion. Diet soda contains several compounds that may negatively affect bone health and lead to bone loss. These compounds include caffeine and phosphoric acid. Caffeine consumption has been reported to decrease bone mineral density, increase the risk of hip fracture, and negatively influence calcium retention.

Diet Soda and sugar cravings, weight gain, and type 2 diabetes

Some research suggests that the artificial sweeteners found in diet soda may have the same effect on the food reward pathway in the brain as regular sugar, which could lead to increased hunger and food intake. Whether, and how, these phenomena contribute to weight gain is still unclear. Research on this topic is mixed, so additional studies on diet soda and sugar cravings are needed.

Take Home Message

Take Diet Soda in Moderation!

Switching from regular soda to diet soda is an easy way to reduce your intake of carbohydrates and calories. However, diet soda doesn’t contain many nutrients, and drinking too much is associated with some short and long-term side effects. For this reason, if you want to drink diet soda, it’s best to enjoy it in moderation. Consider pairing it with a nutritious, well-balanced diet. You can also enjoy plenty of healthier beverage options to help you stay hydrated during summers.

Few alternative drinks to consider-

coconut water, cold-pressed juice with no added sugar, freshly prepared lime soda.  

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